“If you can believe it, the mind can achieve it.” Ronnie Lott
This quote carries a message that Ronnie Sidney, II, the author of “Nelson Beats the Odds,” has lived by his entire life.
“Nelson Beats the Odds,” is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a young man diagnosed with a learning disability and ADHD. With the help of his parents and special education teacher, Nelson graduates from college and becomes a social worker.
“Nelson Beats the Odds” is a great platform for students, parents and educators from which to begin conversations about stigmatization, learning differences and resiliency. The book has 35 five-star ratings on Amazon as of late December and has been on the Bestseller list for books about learning disabilities for several weeks.
Sidney explains that he wrote the book, “to inspire young people who’ve been diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental health disorders to overcome their challenges.”
“I had one student in a mainstream class tell his teacher that every child in Special Education should have a copy of my book,” Sidney says proudly. “I offer a teacher’s guide, which is available for free on my website, that features discussion questions, quiz questions, resources, photos, videos and more. “
“Your book is a mirror to those who have experienced what you have,” award-winning children’s book author Kwame Alexander told Sidney, “[and] a window to those who don’t have that understanding.”
Diagnosed with ADHD while in elementary school, Sidney, II, spent seven years in special education in the Essex County Public School system in Tappahannock, Virginia. Sidney hated the stigmatization of special education and began to lose interest in school all together.
Nevertheless, he graduated from Essex High School in 2001, but with a 1.8 GPA. With limited options regarding four-year colleges, he enrolled in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, where he did so well that he was able to transfer to a four-year university the following year. Sidney received a bachelor’s degree in human services in 2006.
Today, he has a Master of Social Work degree and has spent over eight years in the mental health and academic counseling fields, currently working as an outpatient therapist at the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Community Services Board.
Sidney says that he thought about telling his story for a long time, but was ashamed of his disabilities for most of his life. Once he earned his master’s degree, however, he thought, “Now no one could tell me I wasn’t smart.”
Sidney said earning that degree helped him to realize that he was finally in a position where he wanted to share his story. “It just felt like it was the time to give back,” he says, and in writing the story, Sidney confesses, sharing his past actually helped him deal with the shame he still carried within him.
“I always kind of had it in me to prove people wrong,” Sidney says. “I always felt like the underdog; I felt like people thought I wasn’t as good as them, yet deep inside I knew I was. I always felt like I had the potential to do great things.”
Sidney admits that he has a competitive streak and says that his sister always achieved straight A’s. “She was a cheerleader, the perfect child. I wanted to make my parents proud too.”
Sidney shares that when he was in middle school and performing at his worst, he suffered from poor self-esteem, both academically and socially. Then his special education teacher entered the picture. “She was really the first teacher that made me feel smart,” he says. “She knew that there were things I could improve on — organization, handwriting, my hyperactivity, but she could also see what was inside.”
Sidney also credits his parents for always supporting him, and advises other parents to believe in their kids: “Just love them and support them,” Sidney urges.
“Advocate for them,” he encourages. “It is so easy for children with disabilities to feel like no one believes in them, but it just takes that one person who will never give up on you, that can help you turn your life around.”
Sidney says that he kept busy in college. He used hyperactivity to his advantage – getting involved in a variety of activities. He also says that while he started out majoring in business, he switched to human services, wanting to do something with more heart.
“Money wasn’t the motivating force for me,” he says. “I wanted to do something that I was passionate about.”
Since entering the workforce, Sidney feels lucky to have had the opportunity to work in a variety of fields, including in-home counseling, substance abuse counseling, and behavioral counseling. Working with kids in a variety of capacities inspired him to return to school to become a clinical social worker, he says.
“I always enjoyed working with disadvantaged youth – those that had everything going against them, those kids that everyone else had given up on. I could see the value in them, like my special education teacher could see in me.”
Sidney also had the opportunity to work in the local jails and helped found a healing workshop called “Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words,” a therapeutic writing program he developed with a mentor of his. The program uses expressive writing, bibliotherapy, positive psychology, dialogue and self-reflection to help those incarcerated learn how to share their stories.
“Most offenders have gone through very traumatic experiences which contributed to their delinquency growing up and yet that is rarely addressed,” Sidney points out. “In jail they are afraid to share, not wanting anyone to see them as weak. But in that small room those guys were able to take off their masks and be vulnerable for that 1½ hours we were together,” Sidney says. “They were able to express their true feelings with those who could relate to their experiences and give positive feedback.”
Sidney says he has taken a similar program out into the community and schools and uses pieces of it in the therapeutic workshops he leads. Sidney emphasizes the importance of addressing our vulnerabilities and shame.
He says that his special education teacher’s motto was “to teach her students to do life with a disability”.
“I use that now. You have to. Life is not always going to adapt to you, you have to learn how to get through life and navigate through life with whatever challenges you have been dealt.”
“Don’t even look at it as a disability,” Sidney advises. “ADHD for me has been a source of strength in some ways that has actually helped me get my book written and out into the marketplace.”
Sidney attributes his drive, his energy, and impulsiveness to his ADHD and when he is feeling restless and hyperactive, he looks online for events he can attend where he can share “Nelson Beats the Odds.”
“You can learn how to use your challenges as a strength,” he says. “There is just no other way.”
“Nelson Beats the Odds,” is available on Amazon and if you are interested in purchasing fifteen or more copies, the wholesale price is $8.34. “Nelson Beats the Odds” available in hardcover and eBook. Sidney also released the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator App to help children celebrate their strengths and build self-esteem.
Judy Brenis is an ADHD coach based in Santa Cruz, California. ADHD has touched her life in the form of her adult daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD at age five, and Judy is passionate about helping those with ADHD create successful, happy, and healthy lives. Reach her at www.judyadhdcoaching.com.